Queensland authorities say they are increasingly concerned about the spread of disease and supplying food to thousands of people affected by record floods.
Thousands of residents in Emerald, Bundaberg, Rockhampton and other towns are likely to be evacuated from their homes over the next five days as floodwaters continue to rise.
Authorities say a record flood peak of the Nogoa River at Emerald will arrive earlier than expected, with residents bracing for heights of around 16 metres around midnight tonight.
Representatives from the state’s independent and major supermarkets are today talking with authorities about how to open new supply routes.
Bruce Grady from Emergency Management Queensland says one option could be to send food to the state’s north and then try to move it inland.
“We might have to look at some creative ways of doing that, we may have to look at moving product by sea, by plane,” he said.
“There’s a whole range of planning that’s currently going on.”
In the meantime supermarkets are trying to stockpile essentials in flood-affected areas.
John Bannister, who runs a store in cut-off North Bundaberg, says extra supplies have been delivered.
“We’ve just had delivery of milk and bread and we’re hopeful of holding out,” he said.
Authorities are also increasingly concerned about the spread of disease in flooded communities.
They say drinking water in many towns has been contaminated by sewage, chemicals, rubbish and muddy water.
“It is significant one of the other things we will be doing today is talking to local councils in both assessing and rectifying damage to water purification and or their sewerage systems,” Mr Grady said.
“If we do need to bring in bottled water purification, all of those things can form part of the response.”
The Australian Medical Association’s Queensland president, Gino Pecoraro, says residents need to take steps to protect themselves from disease, sickness and contaminated water.
“People need to make sure they have access to clean water. That may mean boiling it,” he said.
“They also need to make sure they are not swimming or walking in contaminated water because that can cause quite significant infection.
“If they have got a cut, unfortunately there is also the risk of vector-borne diseases, things like dengue fever, Q Fever, Ross River fever.”
The disease warnings come as some residents are refusing to leave the town of Condamine on the Western Downs as the Condamine River rises to a dangerous level.
A compulsory evacuation has been ordered for the entire town and officials are organising to airlift around 100 residents to nearby Dalby.
The Condamine River has reached 14.25 metres at Condamine and is expected to peak over 15 metres.
Western Downs Mayor Ray Brown says some residents do not want to leave, but they do not have a choice.
“It certainly is a significant level that we’re very concerned about, so it’s [about] the safety of the people in the town,” he said.
Further north, an evacuation centre is about to be opened in the central Queensland town of Emerald as floodwaters climb towards their peak.
The Nogoa River has reached 15.8 metres – less than half a metre from the expected peak which authorities now expect around midnight.
About 700 people have evacuated their homes so far and many more are expected to seek refuge tonight.
The Town Hall evacuation centre has reached capacity at 300 people and a third evacuation centre is expected to be opened soon.
Three Army Blackhawk helicopters were due to arrive and make food drops to isolated communities across the region, while about 4,000 sandbags are expected to be arrive from Townsville this evening.
One of Queensland’s biggest citrus producers, John Presler, says much of his property outside Emerald is under water.
“What we’ve got is 1,300 acres of citrus under water. We’ve got four houses flooded and two packing houses with water entered into them now,” he said.
“In 2008 we had about 400 acres of citrus under and this time it’s much, much worse.
“It was really, really under-estimated as to the magnitude of this flood and the speed with which it has risen.”
Expecting the worst
East of Emerald, extra supplies have been delivered to the flood-ravaged North Bundaberg area, where many people remain isolated.
The Burnett River is expected to start receding tomorrow.
More than 400 homes have been evacuated in Bundaberg after the Burnett River peaked at 7.9 metres this morning.
About 80 residents have taken shelter in evacuation centres in North Bundaberg and the city.
The Bundaberg CBD is cut in half by floodwaters and some homes are nearly submerged.
And the Rockhampton Regional Council says the city could be cut off for more than a week when the Fitzroy River peaks.
Residents there are bracing for the worst flooding in nearly 20 years. The Fitzroy River is expected to peak at 9.4 metres early next week.
Mayor Brad Carter says air, road and rail access to the city are likely to be cut from this weekend.
Condamine is the second Queensland town to face total evacuation – no-one is left in the town of Theodore, west of Bundaberg.
Mr Grady says the residents of Theodore are coping well in their temporary accommodation.
Around 300 residents are taking shelter in Moura after the first complete evacuation of a town in Queensland’s history.
“Clearly they have been through a very traumatic time,” he said.
“They’ve been taken from their homes and from all reports they are holding up remarkably well. We’re certainly hoping that continues and everything will be done to ensure those people are supported.”
Meanwhile, extra drinking water supplies are being trucked into Dalby after the water treatment plant was flooded yesterday. Repair crews still cannot reach it.
Meanwhile, residents in the nearby town of Tara have run out of fuel, and food drops are underway for residents in and around Miles. Some rural properties in the area are still being evacuated.